Countries would have to surrender sovereignty over their national airspace in favour of a European air-traffic management system by 2012, according to proposals presented in Brussels yesterday. While many are reluctant, concerns relating to parallel plans to include airlines in the EU’s emissions trading scheme could get the ball rolling.
Lack of progress so far
Conceding that the Single European Sky regulation adopted four years ago had “not delivered the expected results in some important areas,” the Commission has put forward a second package of legislation to overcome the “numerous hurdles” encountered when trying to integrate European airspace.
The main additions to the previous package will be the introduction of binding performance targets for air navigation service providers and a target date of 2012 for member states to establish cross-border cooperation among themselves through “functional airspace blocks” (FABs).
Currently, aircraft are forced to zig-zag between 27 different airspaces – each serviced by a different air navigation service provider on the basis of different rules and requirements. This makes the average flight roughly 49km longer than it need be and pushes up the costs for airline operators to almost double those faced in the United States for example, where the airspace is one, pointed out the EU’s new transport commissioner, the Italian Antonio Tajani. A simplified sky with eight or nine airspaces, based on the mutual agreement of countries, would help save time, fuel, money and CO2, the Commission points out.
Under the current proposal, Eurocontrol (the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation) would gradually take over the management of the EU’s air traffic management network from member states. It would also be charged with defining and evaluating performance targets for the single sky.
National resistance still an issue
The Commission had originally intended to be more forceful in its first raft of measures to create a Single European Sky. But it was forced to soften its plans due to member states’ reluctance to give up control over their airspace, open up areas restricted for military use or put national civil control centres out of business. Tajani acknowledged that this remains an issue and that the most difficult part will not be drafting the legislation but implementing it.
A business-friendly approach amid high oil prices
Nevertheless, the commissioner said resistance is softening. This is notably because the single sky option now seems a more business-friendly approach than the parallel one being pushed for by the Commission – to include airlines in the EU’s emissions trading scheme.
Indeed, while the SES is expected to cut costs for airlines by €2-3 billion annually, airlines are claiming that the ETS, combined with today’s soaring oil prices, could put many of them out of business.
The new package also aims to transfer increased competences to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). While the agency currently deals only with the certification and safety of airlines, Brussels wants to hand over responsibilities for aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services to the agency so as to counter the rising safety risks related to the increased operational pressure as traffic rises.